The Flavor Bible: The Ultimate Reference Book for Cooks
Here’s a scenario we’ve all been through: It’s dinnertime, and you open your fridge to inspect what ingredients you have to work with: some unidentified meat, maybe one or two veggies, milk that’s gone sour, and a pantry filled with spices and dried herbs. Ok, so now what? A recipe book will prove useless since you’re likely to be short of say a dozen ingredients, give or take. So you probably mix everything together and hope for the best. But the end result is always the same: a mediocre meal that just doesn’t taste “right.”
Wouldn’t it be nice to have a list of all the foods that taste good together? We can all think of a few classic food pairings: chocolate and raspberries, apples and cinnamon, kaffir lime leaves and coconut milk, are a few of the matches made in my gustatory heaven.
But what about some of the less obvious combos, like salmon and lentils or carrots and maple syrup?
Now, with a new reference book aptly named The Flavor Bible, you can look up any ingredient and find an exhaustive list of its most compatible flavor combinations!
With The Flavor Bible, the home cook or aspiring chef has all the inspiration he/she needs to create a flavorful meal. Besides learning what ingredients work best together, the book also defines the multiple factors that determine flavor, shares surprising food facts from famous chefs, and lists specific restaurant dishes where you can taste some of those perfect food combinations.
Authors Karen Page and Andrew Dornenburg were kind enough to answer some of this foodie’s questions.
TM: How did you compile all the information for the book?
KP: For the past eight years that we’ve been researching The Flavor Bible, we’ve been tracking modern flavor pairings everywhere we’ve encountered them – including in leading chefs’ cookbooks, at well-regarded restaurants and on their menus and websites, and even in highly-praised dishes in restaurant reviews. In addition, we interviewed dozens of America’s most imaginative chefs to delve deeper into the question of “what goes with what” when it comes to creating extraordinary combinations.
AD: As the chef in our family, I enjoyed getting to test out some of the best combinations at home in our Manhattan kitchen!
TM: What was the most surprising good flavor combination that you discovered?
AD: Chef Michel Richard of Citronelle in Washington, DC, told us that he uses miso broth instead of chicken stock in his onion soup because it adds more flavor. As a chef, I was surprised that a French-born chef would admit to innovating through this “East Meets West” approach to a French classic like onion soup.
KP: It’s the perfect example of the startling historic transformation that cuisine is undergoing: with the advent of the global availability of ingredients, dishes are no longer based on geography but on flavor.
We believe this radical shift calls for a new approach to cooking – and a new style of “cookbook” that inspires the combination of new dishes based on imaginative and harmonious modern flavor pairings.
TM: What is your favorite flavor combination and why?
Andrew & Karen: Our favorite combinations vary with the season:
AD: Right now in autumn, we love the combination of apples and maple syrup. You can turn it into a breakfast dish, or add cabbage to create a warm side dish for pork or chicken.
In winter, you can’t go wrong with the combination of Brussels sprouts – which hit their peak in December – with bacon and garlic! This is also a great side dish for Thanksgiving turkey.
KP: In spring, we turn to spring lamb and morel mushrooms – and would open a bottle of Pinot Noir to enhance them both!
Nothing says “summer” to us like the combination of tomatoes and basil – just add some extra-virgin olive oil, and you’re in heaven!
TM: It’s interesting how flavors are combined in different cultures and countries. In Iran for instance, where my parents are from, we dip our potato chips in yogurt, and not ketchup like they do in America. Do you think flavor combinations are largely a cultural phenomenon or something that people share across the globe?
KP: The Belgians also dip their fries into a creamy sauce (mayonnaise). And the Canadians even top theirs with curds and gravy (as poutine)! Classic dishes evolved on the basis of regional availability and preferences. But with the advent of air travel and FedEx, not to mention the Internet, flavor combinations are definitely spreading globally.
AD: We’re seeing many more global influences being embraced by chefs within their cuisines, using an approach we might describe as “eclectic.” We’re excited about Brad Farmerie’s food at Double Crown and Public, which spans Asia, Australia and the Mediterranean. Even a gifted classical chef like David Waltuck of the four-star restaurant Chanterelle will tap flavors suggesting Eastern Europe and Russia (in his dish of Blue Island oysters with sauerkraut and black caviar) as well as the Eastern Mediterranean (loin of lamb with green olives, cumin, and mini-falafel).
TM: The word flavor has evolved, from originally denoting an odor, to today, being associated more with taste. How do you define flavor?
KP: We devote the entire first chapter of The Flavor Bible to defining flavor, which we sum up in this equation:
FLAVOR = TASTE + MOUTHFEEL + AROMA + “THE X FACTOR”
While the words “flavor” and “taste” are often used interchangeably in casual conversation, “flavor” is actually a much more comprehensive concept that encompasses other factors including aroma, which is thought to comprise as much as 80 percent or more of flavor.
TM: To what extent do you think the color of food affects their flavor?
KP: In The Flavor Bible, we touch on the fact that a dish’s visual presentation can greatly enhance the pleasure we derive from it. In addition, how a dish looks can affect our perception of its flavor in more direct ways. For example, the deeper the color of a berry sorbet, the more berry flavor is perceived. The stronger the connection between a particular food and a particular color, the stronger the flavor impact – such as berries with red, lemon with yellow, and lime with green.
AD: It just serves as a reminder of the fact that if you care deeply about flavor, there’s a lot to take into account!
TM: Which chef do you feel is the most creative in his/her experiments with flavor?
KP: It’s important to define what you mean by “creative.” Some people say “creative” when they mean “wacky” or “unusual.” We see the most creative experiments as those that are added to the flavor canon.
AD: We begin the dedication page of The Flavor Bible with a quote from Nobel laureate Albert Schweitzer: “At times our own light goes out and is rekindled by a spark from another person. Each of us has cause to think with deep gratitude of those who have lighted the flame within us.”
KP: And we follow that with our dedication: “To Daniel Boulud, Patrick O’Connell, and Jean-Georges Vongerichten – the leading lights of culinary creativity of their generation – whose sparks always rekindle our flames.”
Karen Page and Andrew Dornenburg will appear at the first Manhattan signing of The Flavor Bible on Wednesday, November 5th at 7-8 pm at Borders – Kips Bay on Second Avenue near 32nd Street. Moroccan-inspired delicacies will be provided by Chef Lahcen Ksiyer of the authors’s favorite Moroccan restaurant Casaville on Second Avenue near 35th Street.
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